Analysis: Russians pack their troubles into their grocery baskets – Putin gains, Medvedev loses, US war aim fails

Russian fighter jets fly over Moscow. Photo Alexander Vilf/Sputnik

John Helmer, “the longest continuously serving foreign correspondent in Russia”, writes from Moscow in his blog Dances with Bears:

It was a marching song in 1915: “What’s the use of worrying? It never was worthwhile, so Pack up your troubles in your old kit-bag, And smile, smile, smile.” Three more years of war in Europe obliterated the smiles, and also the song.
Under pressure from the US campaigns on the Ukraine and Syrian fronts, in the propaganda media, and on the international capital markets, the Russian home front is marching with dwindling income and growing fear. There is no smiling. But the political impact is stable support for President Vladimir Putin; growing support for ministers regarded as fighting effectively against the foreign enemy; and weakening support for ministers seen to be pro-American, like Prime Minister Dmitry Medvedev. If you invest in the Russian grocery basket, this tune will grow on you. […]
Russian military victory on the Syrian front, the collapse of the US regime in Kiev, and signs of regimes toppling in Berlin, Paris, Brussels and London have helped support the growing market conviction that the damage to Russian capital value has hit bottom. Rising crude oil and commodity prices are also contributing to the positive momentum. Still, the damage to the market capitalization of the Russian retail sector has been costly. […]

At home, Russians are pessimistic. According to the latest nationwide opinion polls, the fear of a breakdown of the government’s social welfare system is rising faster now than the deterioration in the payments situation itself. The priority concerns have changed dramatically. […]
The concern for stability remains unchanged, but fear for the welfare system is suddenly much greater – compared to 1999 – than law and order, terrorism, and personal security. Most Russians believe this is Putin’s achievement on law and order and economic stability. The new threat is blamed entirely on the foreign enemy. The domestic opposition’s catch cry of corruption is also the national consensus, but no opposition figure is trusted to be capable of doing something about it. […]
As Putin recognizes, there is a danger that mounting hostility among voters might reach a mass infectious point at the parliamentary elections. The public opinion polls show a sharp nationwide rise in apprehension of a failure in the social guarantee payments system. However, at the same time the political leadership is not blamed for this. Protests are localized; this means the targets of the protesters are local company bosses, institutional officials, and regional administrators. In the truckers’ protest, for instance, Putin’s friends, the Rotenbergs, draw the blame, but not Putin — not even when he publicly defends them. For more on the Rotenbergs, read this archive.
There has been a 3-point dip in Putin’s approval rating from 85% in December to 82% in January, according to the Levada measurement.[…]
No political head in Europe or the US has secured such a high, and also stable approval rating for as long as Putin has done. Under the pressure of events since the start of 2014, the only European politician with a comparable lift in domestic support, Chancellor Angela Merkel, has lost the confidence of most German voters; her rating has collapsed; and she is now in far greater danger of being overthrown in a palace coup than the Russian leadership.
This isn’t an American-type Teflon effect for the Russian president. It is not that the negative news and corruption scandals wash off Putin. It is that the war is viewed by Russians as aimed directly against them; and that in the circumstances there is noone else as capable as Putin for defending the Russians. It’s a kind of Winston Churchill effect – except there are multiple Adolf Hitlers now threatening Russia outside the country’s frontiers — and no Clement Atlee alternatives inside. […]



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